Economic Man Meets Reality in France

One of the more nuanced conservative criticisms of communism was that it misunderstood human nature, by reducing all human differences to economics. The Soviet system would end social conflict, we were told, by abolishing private property and attending to man’s material needs. Not only did the Soviet system fail in large measure to keep up with the West materially, but this spiritually impoverished view failed to account for the religious, tribal, ethnic, and linguistic identities of the various subject peoples within and without the Soviet Union who chafed under its authoritarianism and requirements of uniformity.

Similarly, pro-capitalist westerners are wrong to believe that all people everywhere are the same, and that they only need to be free, economically active, and wealthy in order to flourish. People everywhere also want to be subject to self-rule by members of their community. This was the major engine of the decolonialization drive in the 20th Century. This is driving now the anti-globalization movement, which feeds off of perceptions that foreigners are influencing the economic destinies of the third world. The anomoly of France is that immigrants are revolting against an unavoidable condition of being immigrants: rule by Frenchmen. French hospitality has been perceived as weakness and decadence. Arab and Muslim leaders in France want their own schools, their own modes of dress, their own language. In other words, they want to live in France but not be "of France."

Today Opinion Journal has the right-leaning variation of the Marxist fallacy: "Why Immigrants Don't Riot Here . . . France's rigid economic system sustains privilege and inspires resentment." First, immigrants do riot here; poor Mexicans figured prominently in the '92 LA Riots, likely for the same lack of identification with the broader American community that Muslims now exhibit in France. But, second, there is an ideological, religious, and ethnic dimension to the French riots. Muslims living in France feel empowered to commit violence against the broader French community, in part, because they don't care about France or its people. The French are perceived, at best, as decadent nonbelievers. At worst, they're seen as active obstacles to a Muslim self-rule within France.

While boredom, joblessness, and hopelessness undoubtedly have something to do with the riots, to reduce the matter to economics misunderstands a key factor: that the Muslims have not integrated into France by choice, and their religion makes them feel entitled to rule themselves by values inimical to those of France. In particualr, economic factors fail to explain why so many poor people do not behave anti-socially. Poor Koreans did not riot in the '92 LA Riots. Poor native whites are not rioting now in France.

Economic reductionism has repeatedly led to bad policy. Such diasters include "urban renewal" measures in the US that uprooted fragile, poor communities in favor of pristine housing projects that soon turned into war zones. These also include the various social welfare measures of France that have ensured immigrants are well fed, well housed, and well clothed, but that their idenitification with French values is incomplete. Finally, the diastrous policies of many western nations to import millions of foreigners with alien values to do work that could be done natives and machines in order to create "economic growth" is the biggest economic fallacy of all.

Posted by at November 8, 2005 12:12 PM
Comment #91156

Chris, excellent article. And I found it very accurate in analysis of the multi-faceted underpinnings for social revolt in France.

One of the more basic dynamics however, is that of group identification. When folks perceive oppression, feel ostracized, or lack perceived necessities, they will find common traits amongst themselves upon which to coalesce into a stronger group for the express purpose of overcoming their obstacles or foes.

The reason the middle classes in modern nations don’t engage in this kind of civil revolt, is because they perceive that they are fairly well off, not unduly victimized or oppressed or ostracized, hence, they tend to differ with each other on a whole range of value issues preventing their coalescing into group of solidarity around a central cause.

So, in this regard, economics is an underpinning, as evidenced by the total absence of middle class revolts in modern societies, and the common element of violent dissent being almost exclusively defined by perceived membership in socio-economic underclasses.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 8, 2005 1:01 PM
Comment #91168

At most, being poor is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to behave antisocially. The WSJ types don’t seem to understand, however, that the chief cause of this is not poverty per se but the clash of cultures and the alienation of the French Arab community, coupled with a sense of superiority and separateness.

Most of this violence is not Islamism per se. But, like the ideology of “black power”, the notion of an Islamic mission lends a patina of legitimacy to individuals who are likely predisposed to commit antisocial acts. Instead of being ashamed, they can imagine they’re doing a good thing by doing the crimes they’d like to do anyway.

Posted by: Roach at November 8, 2005 1:55 PM
Comment #91179

The Muslim minority in France, imported and exploited for the privilege of the elite few, has reached a tipping point—or critical mass. When there is grievance in a society by a very small minority, the aggrieved look around and deduce that the problem is personal, not societal. But once a large enough minority begin seeing several others of a similar demographic likewise aggrieved—and that their plight is contradictory to the stated ideals of the society at large—they become inflammed, as we are now seeing in France.

The French are in great denial over the obvious disparity between their utopian socialist ideals and their miserable stark reality. The affluent and powerful made immigration policy decisions which benefitted them personally but not French society as a whole. The affluent can always retreat to remote, well-protected estates, but housing projects for the masses take a long time to build. Meanwhile, predictable social order and demographics were quickly upset by mass influxes of immigrants, allowed into France to increase the available cheap labor pool.

Does this sound a lot like what is being perpetrated upon the American people by the American business and government elites, all in the name of short-term profits, but at the long-term price of social discontent, disorder, and disaster?

Posted by: Metros at November 8, 2005 2:30 PM
Comment #91184

No, not really. For example if you examine the time of the Jim Crow laws, the businessmen at the time did NOT want to enforce them because it meant most cost to them and fewer patrons, etc.

It was the democratic controlled states of the south that used their political power to force business to go against their natural inclination to treat all with gold equally, end reconstruction, take away the right of the black man to vote that it had recently earned and re-institutionalize racism.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 8, 2005 2:35 PM
Comment #91189

Chris and Metros, I agree with you both. Chris, “necessary but not sufficient” is exactly right. Were it not for the French clinging to a culture and resisting any change to it to the exclusion of members of their society, the economic plights probably would not be sufficient to cause the riots occuring now. Though there is a limit to the size of the poor population and level of poverty before poverty itself becomes sufficient. S. Africa is an historical case in point. The revolution by Blacks in S. Africa was going to occur one way or another regardless of race, due to the economic disparities of too large a majority of the population.

India and China both saw the writing on the wall, and moved in huge steps to lift the economic status of the majority in their nations to avert a future revolution on economic disparities alone.

But, I agree with you, at this time, economic disparity would not have been sufficient for the unrest in France.

Metros, as long as the US maintains a majority of employed middle class who can afford the hallmarks of the American dream, home, vehicle, electronic entertainment, and freedom to vote, economic disparity will be insufficient to precipitate French style revolt. However, combined with perceived racial and economic disparity, the riots of the 60’s and 70’s are never too far from reenactment.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 8, 2005 2:44 PM
Comment #91193
So, in this regard, economics is an underpinning, as evidenced by the total absence of middle class revolts in modern societies

Wow, talk about oversimplification and half-truth. What was 1967-1972 in middle-class America if not a revolt? What about the late trend of sports riots? College campus riots? University of Wisconsin on Halloween weekend this year?

The only reason that you think economics is an underpinning in the French riots is because you have undoubtedly chalked up white, middle-class riots to “too much alcohol” or “too much war”.

How convenient. When poor people riot, it’s because of their economic oppression. When middle-class people riot, it’s because of alcohol or war.

You didn’t address one of Chris’s key points, that poor whites and Koreans aren’t taking part in these “economic riots.” France has a pretty high unemployement rate and it can’t just be in the tiny 10% Muslim community. There are fewer Muslims in France than unemployed whites. Logic suggests that an “economic” revolt would most certainly include the largest impoverished ethnic group in the country, non?

Posted by: Bryan Williams at November 8, 2005 3:04 PM
Comment #91197

I would propose the simplest cause; that the reasons are as repetitively stated in the news. To paraphrase CNN “because their French born children were subject to the same prejudices they were.”

Each first generation of immigrents have always been treated poorly. They then become assimilated and the next wave takes the bottom rung. The problems, as I’ve come to understand them, in fairly representative order are:
1 - there is no next wave or the group has grown too fast, i.e. limited opportunity.
2a- the Europeans are a strongly secular group
2b- the muslims are a strongly religious group
3 - islamofascists offer the alternative

Posted by: Dave at November 8, 2005 3:21 PM
Comment #91200


Every time I see the flames and the chaos in France I think of the riots that took place in Watts, California. To me, I see essentially the same situation. Here in the U.S., black people lived in poverty in miserable ghettos, with a high rate of unemployment and with no prospects for a better life. In France, the same is true for the immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Those who are rioting are not considered to be part of France. You think they want to be separate. I do not. This is the same thing that is said about Latinos in our country. It’s not so. Many Latinos have become famous Americans.

The only way for France to improve things is to help these unfortunate immigrants economically. That’s not enough, as you say. France needs to make them feel that they are part of France.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at November 8, 2005 3:24 PM
Comment #91203

I suppose their feelings of separateness are why so many French Arab youth participate in gang rapes of Muslim girls that date white guys, harass people on the bus, engage in constant petty crime, and generally act like a**holes 24/7. I suppose racism can explain why Indians in Britain are largely successful and well socialized, but their Pakistani counterparts have higher rates of crime and unemployment even though the two groups are physically identical. Surely there is not some defect in Muslim culture—sense of superiority, praise of violence, contempt for women, fatalism—that has something to do with their failure to suceed in western societies.

Likewise, it’s white people’s fault in Watts. Because, as we’ve seen from Korean and other Asian immigrants, it’s impossible to go from being poor to being successful in LA. The best, easily defended response is to burn down your own neighborhood.

This is the great, predictable response of the left: The worse nonwhites misbehave, the more elaborate the explanations to pin the blame on white people.

Perhaps the only thing these episodes prove is that the rioters of Watts and now in Paris are antisocial and destructive people that the middle class majority—in both cases, mostly white—should have the courage to completely suppress without regard to these Ptolemaic explanations that try to pin the blame on whites. Nothing the generous-to-a-fault French have done to Arab immigrants is an excuse to riot, and the excuse-makers will reap what they sow. Moreover, these explanations ignore how the gallant and generous French may have become more prejudiced against Arabs precisely because they have, as a group, behaved so poorly in France, with so many resorting to violence, harassment of women, and generally antisocial behavior.

France should crack down on the rioters, stop the bleeding by stopping new immigration, continue efforts like the Hijab ban to assimilate existing Muslims, and being a program of encouraging an Arab exodus. The two communities are simply incompatible.

Posted by: Roach at November 8, 2005 3:39 PM
Comment #91204


The only way for France to improve things is to help these unfortunate immigrants economically. That’s not enough, as you say. France needs to make them feel that they are part of France.

I was with you until this. I am not sure about this line. I am not sure they want to feel a part of a country they believe is decadent and godless.

My hunch is they want self rule and a higher quality of economics.

It may take a few generations for their children/grandchildren to become decadent and godless, then they will want to become a part of France.

Right now I would let the children where their religious clothing.


Posted by: Craig H olmes at November 8, 2005 3:39 PM
Comment #91216

France has a harder time handling immigrants than we do in the U.S. One reason is the traditional European emphasis on ancestry. When Americans brag about their families, they refer to the poorest one to show how far they have come. When Europeans brag about their families, they find some eminent ancestor, maybe even a noble or royal one. Of course, from the practical American point of view, if you are descended from royalty and you are not well off yourself, how stupid are you?

It is a fundamental difference in outlook. Sometimes a poor historical memory is not such a bad thing.

Economics is not at the bottom of this. It is true that most of the rioters are poor, but they are poor because of their place in the culture. They are not enthusiastic about becoming a part of France and France is not enthusiastic about accepting them. We Americans have never experienced anything like this. Our riots are not at all similar They actually were primarily economic. African Americans are AMERICANS. They have no place else to go. Hispanics become Americans rapidly, despite the rhetoric, as have almost all groups. Even the Amish and the Hassidic Jews have developed a uniquely American identity.

Muslim integration will be the central challenge for Europe in the next generation. It may not succeed. We all have a stake in this. As annoying as the French can be, a France more like North Africa or the Middle East is in nobody’s interest.

Posted by: Jack at November 8, 2005 4:21 PM
Comment #91224

Re economics, however …

Since the ’70s, America has created 57 million new jobs. The Euros have managed 4 million, mostly government jobs. Long live the free market, American style.

Posted by: Jack at November 8, 2005 4:48 PM
Comment #91238

Slightly off-topic, but…there’s really only a small difference between Christianity and Communism:

With Christianity, you work all your life for little or no reward, and then you die. And you wake up in heaven.

With Communism, you work all your life for little or no reward, and then you die. And your granchildren wake up in heaven.

Posted by: ElliottBay at November 8, 2005 5:31 PM
Comment #91243

I was in a conversation the other day with a French girl from Grenbole and she struck and interesting comparison between the French and the Americans and it was this. That Americans tend to evolve. There was mention of the 60’s and 70’s…it was still two decades. Civil Rights was a long process along with the current Gay Rights movement and the problem of illegal immigration. We as Americans watch these problems but let them play out and normally we come to a conclusion or new status quo after a long period of time. The French on the other hand are still caught up in the idea of Revolution. For the French to adapt and change they need immediate thunder and lightning to spur change. How can you solve Racism over night? I don’t know. Do I think that this is necessarily a problem of the French not including the Muslim population…no. Such racism is fairly evident in Switzerland (sorry if I offend anyone with this but I live here and its true!) but for the most part the French look at the Muslim population the same way the Greeks look at the Turks and the same way the Italians looks at the Albanians and the same way the Americans look at the Mexicans. For some reason immigrants don’t want to adapt anymore to new cultures!

Posted by: The BDB at November 8, 2005 5:45 PM
Comment #91249

It is realy very basic,the French do not read or understand the concepts of history. Time and again they think if you just give people what they want they will go away and leave you alone.
Wrong! What is law is law for everyone. Standing by the laws and customes of your country keep it YOUR country.

Posted by: Donna at November 8, 2005 6:17 PM
Comment #91254


Of course, your grandchildren only end up in heaven when they die. Communism probably hastens their journey, if you think that is a good thing.

Posted by: Jack at November 8, 2005 6:35 PM
Comment #91261

Why would people feel that they need to riot because they aren’t making enough money? Then again, why do those people think that rioting will get them more money? Or, is that really the point? Do these Arab immigrants in France ACTUALLY want to improve their economic standing by RIOTING or are they rioting out of a misplaced hatred of the French people or France itself?

I don’t riot because I believe it is wrong to do so. Destroying other people’s property is not a good thing to do. Hurting, or killing, other people JUST because I’m mad at someone or something, especially if the people I’m hurting have nothing to do with what I am mad about, is WRONG! I have been taught and, thus; believed that my whole life! I don’t care what the problem is, if those immigrant’s lives are not in jeopardy, they shouldn’t be doing ANY of that! I don’t need to hear their perspective to know whether or not what they are doing is wrong! It IS WRONG! I don’t care what your perspective is, what culture you come from, or what the laws say about it in your area of the world; they are breaking the laws of the country that they live in and they DON’T have a right to do that.

If you believe that giving them money, some limited power, or the right/ability to govern themselves is actually going to solve that problem, you’re nuts! Most of them are doing their part in that riot for their own reasons, not planning ahead to fix some problem in their society. It’s crime and it’s pointless. It will make the French people dislike them even more, and rightly so! If they wanted to govern themselves, why did they move to France? Of all places, why move to FRANCE to practice an unpopular religon in an almost atheistic state? If they can’t find jobs in France, why would others move there? If there are no opportunities there, why did the ones that are there, immigrate there in the first place? The taxpayer money spent to house and feed those people is a waste if they do not appreciate it, not to mention if they turn around and do this!

Want to solve the problem? Want to make them part of the community? Treat them like any other person who vandilizes or damages someone else’s property! Show them that there are laws in France and that it is a violation of those laws to damage other’s property or hurt innocent people, regardless of your religion or economic situation. Then, cut off their monetary support from the government and advise them to leave if they do not wish to be a peaceful and productive member of their communities in France! If they don’t wish to live peacefully and become part of the country, why would anyone want them there to begin with? It’s like inviting an enemy into your house, who wishes to ruin you from within. They want no part of French culture, and apparently don’t mind disrupting it, so why bother trying to make people, like that, welcome? Let the Arabs or Muslims who want to be in France, because they LIKE France’s culture and people, stay and make the other ones at least toe the line and follow the laws of the land or leave. Anything else is asking to be undone from within.

Liberals/Socialists (The two terms are pretty much synonyms.) in this country would be WISE to learn that people are unhappy for reasons other than their economic class, social standing, racism, or the like. There are people who are poor, of low social standing, and maligned, yet do not riot. Poor white Christians do not riot because Christian teachings explain that it is wrong to do so. Those same teachings also lead most Christians to the idea that blaming others for their problems is useless, if not plain stupid. Christ would have had Christians folow the laws of the land they live in, so long as it does not conflict with his teachings. Their economic standing in this life is less important to a Christian because they believe that following those same Christian teachings will provide them with eternal life. Do Muslims not believe in an afterlife? What about all this I hear from Muslim leaders, saying, “Islam is a religion of peace.”? If these people believe that, why would they riot? Are there Muslims who do not riot? Of course. The questions is: why do these ones riot? Are there not rich Arabs? Are there not poor Arabs in many Arab countries? Or, is it that France is so terrible for them that they cannot stand it? That, of course, brings me back to my previous question: “If there are no opportunities there (In France), why did the ones that are there, immigrate there in the first place?”

It’s not about racism, religion, economics, or culture; it’s about people and their lawlessness; their desire to do evil instead of good to others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I acted like that, if I set fires, and if I ruined people’s lives I would expect to be jailed, because that’s why law was created: to protect the people of society from others who would harm them or their property, so that society can grow and flourish, not fall under the whims of anarchy. Put them in jail or kick them out of the country and stop worrying about the feelings of criminals! Catering to them is like the good old European policy of appeasement, which worked so well against Hitler! Stop appeasing and draw the line before France is beyond their own means of repair and America has to save their &%#es again!

Posted by: Daniel W. Peer at November 8, 2005 7:32 PM
Comment #91279
They are not enthusiastic about becoming a part of France and France is not enthusiastic about accepting them. We Americans have never experienced anything like this. Our riots are not at all similar They actually were primarily economic. African Americans are AMERICANS. They have no place else to go. Hispanics become Americans rapidly, despite the rhetoric, as have almost all groups. Even the Amish and the Hassidic Jews have developed a uniquely American identity.


I’m not sure this is true, but I’m open to the argument. Based on the little we know (and I think the mainstream media has been woeful in explaining this, while the right-wing’s ax-to-grind seems all too obvious), there are both similarities and differences. During the time of our most intense riots, of course, there was much talk about pan-Africa and considerable rhetoric in some quarters about how African Americans did NOT feel like Americans at all. It’s interesting that it was from the Black Muslims that some of us first learned a little about Islam. They felt truly separate, as some of the second and third generation Muslims in France likely feel.

On the other hand, they clearly WERE Americans, in my opinion, just as many of these rioters (and rioting is something of a rich tradition in France, though not usually to these extremes) are, like it or not, probably quite French in their attitudes. The truth is, it’s very hard to pass judgment on this from our very limited perspective. We need more information from trusted sources before we all start viewing this from a Huntingtonesque clash-of-civilizations point of view. I imagine the real situation is more complex and “grayer” than most of us would wish.

Posted by: Reed Sanders at November 8, 2005 8:57 PM
Comment #91326

The muslims in France are doing all they know, they are nothing but a bunch of savages! for all I care france can burn down, and they can all rott in hell!

Posted by: andrew king at November 9, 2005 12:04 AM
Comment #91350

These riots really are nothing to do with religion. A lot of people have jumped on the muslim bandwagon, saying how this shows how they’re savages, and how they don’t want to integrate etc. But there are non-muslims rioting as well, from black African countries where France had colonies, not to mention the blatantly obvious facts there is not just one “type” of muslim and that just because you are Arabic doesn’t mean you are muslim.

These riots are because of the racism ingrained in French society. For what it’s worth, I think in the long run these riots may be a good thing for France. It took many riots of this kind for Britain to start to address its racism, hopefully France can begin now.

Some interviews with residents

Posted by: Paul at November 9, 2005 7:20 AM
Comment #91378


“Such racism is fairly evident in Switzerland (sorry if I offend anyone with this but I live here and its true!) but for the most part the French look at the Muslim population the same way the Greeks look at the Turks and the same way the Italians looks at the Albanians and the same way the Americans look at the Mexicans. For some reason immigrants don’t want to adapt anymore to new cultures!”

‘…the same way Americans look at the Mexicans.’ ?

People I know don’t ‘look down’ on Mexican immigrants.
The problem is with those who don’t(can’t) wait their turn to come to the U.S. legally.

The problem comes from bad practices on BOTH sides of our border.
We need to stop businesses, and private people, from hiring undocumented workers.
Mexico needs to do more for their own people - like provide jobs and opportunities. Incentives to make people want to stay home.
Many of our jobs have already moved south of the border but P. Fox (or one of his people) was complaining recently that the jobs they should be getting are going to China.
I can agree with that - in a way.
Instead Fox encourages people to cross the border - easy fix for him.

We can not afford to have so many people coming at this rate. They may be filling the ‘low paying jobs nobody else wants’ but the cost in healthcare & education alone cannot continue to be absorbed by the rest of us.

My neighbors are 1st and 2nd generation LEGAL IMMIGRANTS from Mexico. They feel the same way that I do about people waiting their turn and coming here the legal & RIGHT way. Does that make them racist?

Posted by: dawn at November 9, 2005 8:25 AM
Comment #91400

You guys are missing a big point: The rioters are all youths, and white youths make up a substantial proportion of their numbers.

Couple that with the fact that there isn’t any unity of purpose or ideology to the riots, and it starts to look like simple hooliganism — they’re torching cars because they can, and it’s fun.

Posted by: American Pundit at November 9, 2005 9:00 AM
Comment #91463


It has a lot to do with Euro inability to integerate immigrants.

This guy wrote an article in WSJ a while back, but it is unavailable free. Take a look at this article -

Posted by: Jack at November 9, 2005 12:06 PM
Comment #91476
It has a lot to do with Euro inability to integerate immigrants.

Yes, I think that’s beyond dispute. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: Reed Sanders at November 9, 2005 1:20 PM
Comment #91502

The critical issue is the willingness of the immigrants, legal or not, to assimilate into the dominant society. The Muslim youth who are rioting in France have no desire to integrate into the secular utopian French society. They are engaging in jihad and will not stop till they have imposed sharia upon the infidels.

The French government is still in denial about this, or is spinning a different tale to calm the non-Muslim majority. Tony Blankely, in his recent column, offers the following quote: “It is not anger that is driving the insurgents to take it out on the secularized welfare states of Old Europe. It is hatred. Hatred caused not by injustice suffered, but stemming from a sense of superiority. The “youths” do not blame the French, they despise them.”

In order to maintain social cohesion, immigration must be controlled. Only immigrants who desire to be assimilated, productive members of the dominant society should be allowed citizenship. Europe’s Muslim population does not have a desire to be citizens of the existing order. They desire to transform it to Islam.

If the U.S. continues its current border policy with Mexico, allowing wave after wave of illegals who do not value American culture, laws, language, etc., it will find itself in a very similar dilemma as Europe. The demographic shift within U.S. border states, especially in areas proximate to the border, is already alarming.

Posted by: Metros at November 9, 2005 2:10 PM
Comment #91600

Let me get this straight it is either Religion or Immigration or Racism or Teen Angst or Economics or the governments lack of response that are fueling these riots.

Isn’t it possible that it is Religion and Immigration and Racism and Teen Angst and Economics that are fueling the riots?

Posted by: Rob at November 9, 2005 5:56 PM
Comment #91612


Posted by: Fran Vaughn at November 9, 2005 6:25 PM
Comment #93223

You’re welcome, Fran. Glad to get a voice of support, so, thank you!

Posted by: Daniel W. Peer at November 15, 2005 4:10 PM
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